Engagement Program: Transition Rules

Definition: An Engagement Program Transition is the entry into the EP, the exit from the EP and the movement from one stream into another.

Opinion: Marketo has a tab “Transition Rules” in its Streams view, but we don’t like it, but use something else instead.

What we like doing instead is a set of Smart Campaigns that control the flow into, from and in between an Engagement Program and name them according to what they are doing. Like this:

These campaigns are the heart and soul of an Engagement Program and all your strategy thoughts should flow into them.

Trigger or Batch?

As in so many cases, you have to decide if your Transition Smart Campaigns should be triggers or recurring batches. And the answer that nobody ever wants to hear – although it’s always the truth – is: It depends. Usually, Engagement Program Transitions are not time critical as the EP sends on fixed times, so batches are usually fine. Just run them an hour or two before your stream fires.

If it needs to be real-time use a trigger campaign – of course.

01 Enter Program

This Smart Campaign defines who is supposed to enter the program. You don’t want to include unsubscribed persons here, as they wouldn’t receive emails anyways, and they would just blur your reporting. Apart from that: Here’s where you define your entry criteria. Keep in mind that one person can be in many EPs, so prevent oversending to people by having tight definitions on who enters what. Let’s say for example you have trial onboarding programs for various products: What do you want to do with persons who trial three of your products at the same time? Have them in all three onboarding programs? Or is there a hierarchy and should membership in A prevent somebody from becoming a member in B. Think about that!

02 Move to…

In my opinion – there is no rule on that! – a person should only move from left to right in an EP. That left to right direction is the progression in your program. It also represents the funnel, where the only direction is down.

If this is our EP, these rules apply:

  1. If you enter the program, you enter in “Awareness”
  2. From Awareness you can move to “Consideration”, “Decision” or “Exit”
  3. From Consideration you can move to “Decision” or “Exit”
  4. From Decision you move to “Exit”
  5. Eventually, everybody will have to move to “Exit”

The Smart Lists of Transitions

The most difficult thing in an EP are the Smart Lists of your transition campaigns. What exactly constitutes progression – technically and strategically?

Technically, anything that Marketo knows can trigger a transition. These can be data points from within Marketo – engagement with content e.g. – or from outside of Marketo, like website interactions or CRM interaction or anything else that Marketo would know. If e.g. you have product usage data in Marketo Custom Objects you might trigger Stream Transitions from that information.

Strategically, you will want to use data points that are relevant and measurable. Unfortunately, email opens and clicks are neither – this would be the story of another blog post – so use form submits, website interactions or external data points. Let’s say that anything that would represent a Program Status Change or a Scoring Increase could also represent a Stream Transition. (You would never score email opens, would you?).


A commonplace in EP discussion is: Don’t have persons leave your EP because you lose reporting. I’m not 100% sure I agree with that, but let’s go it that for now. But even if a person never leaves the program, at some point their journey is over and they should flow into an empty stream called “Exit”.

It was often recommended to even have two empty streams in every EP called “Good Exit” and “Bad Exit” and I think it’s totally fine and fair that this distinction needs to be made, but I’d rather not have two streams for it. Still you might want to create different Nurture Control – or Transition – Smart Campaigns to reflect that difference.

Bad Exit

A bad exit is a situation where your EP did not achieve its goal. The vast majority of program members will take that exit, so don’t be sad if that happens. A bad exit can mean various things:

  • Person unsubscribes
  • Person exhausts all content without meaningful engagement
  • Person’s data situation has changed so the entry conditions no longer apply
  • Program hierarchy demands that person needs to stop in program A but continue in program B.

All of these scenarios needs to be reflected in Transition Smart Campaigns and lead to an exit. Your mileage will vary, so think about all scenarios where you want a person to no longer sit waiting in a content stream or receive emails that they are not supposed to receive.

Good Exit

The good exit is your nurture success. A trial converts to a purchase. An MQL was created and sales took over. An opportunity was opened. This can by anything that you wanted to achieve with your EP. You certainly don’t want to continue sending trial emails to converted customers, and if sales took the reins you might not want to keep on sending marketing messages to that person. Whatever it is: Be prepared to create a Transition Smart Campaign for this scenario.

And again: If you rather have good and bad exits in specific empty streams or just as Smart Campaign Members of Engagement Program Statuses – that’s up to you and only relevant for reporting.

Transition Flow Steps

Transition Flow Steps are simple: Add to Program and Change Stream.

This flow step adds a person to a program and to a stream in that program. If you use that flow step again on a person it will fail and create an error message in the Activity History. Person is already member of program or person is already member of stream. No surprise here, right?

I said before that I think a person should only move from left to right in an EP, so that would make this flow step illegal if the person is already in “Consideration”:

Moving back is strategically lazy. Better try to find something that is more appealing to your target audience instead of trying the same thing again. But I guess that’s the story for another day.